Tuesday, March 14, 2017
From Hypocrisy to Cynicism
Such shifts of state are not limited to mechanical systems but also affect behavior of groups of animals. The sound of a single gunshot can cause a flock of birds to fly up or a herd of grazing animals to set off in a stampede. Humans are not immune from such behavior either, and panicked crowds often surge toward the exits, crushing people underfoot. But it is human society, in all of its complexity, that can undergo the most dramatic and impressive shifts of state. Governments crumble, empires collapse, financial pyramids evaporate, and people are left scratching their heads because they can’t identify the triggering event. But just as it doesn’t matter which single snowflake triggers an avalanche, this is irrelevant: the trigger is not the root cause.
All of the above qualifies as “hand-waving analysis”—pretty much just words. But I intend to go beyond hand-waving and propose a conceptual model and a technique for analyzing various aspects of societal status quo in order to gauge how close any given society is to the point when a huge effect can ensue from a tiny, arbitrary cause. To this end, I choose to employ a couple of morally and philosophically loaded terms such as hypocrisy, skepticism and cynicism—but I intend to strip them of any moral significance and treat them as purely functional descriptors of psychological mechanisms. The model of society I will use may seem somewhat unsophisticated, but I think that it will suffice for our purpose—which is to be able to spot the situation when a heretofore stable society turns into one “rigged to blow” at any moment and without any warning.